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Washington crossing the Delaware

Etching of George Washington on horseback


Washington crossing the Delaware. United States, ca. 1833. Photograph.

This is a black-and-white print of George Washington. The artist was working in the 1830s, more than 50 years after Washington’s famous military achievement. Before, during, and after the revolution, printers produced thousands of prints like this on leaflets. Although (obviously) no internet or cell phones existed in the late 1700s, there was a new kind of mass media circulating written ideas and visual images to people around the whole Atlantic world (Europe, Africa, the Americas): It was print, in the form of books, newspapers, and pamphlets. Even though most people could not read, more and more people were educated, which created a market that publishers rushed to fill. People who could not read could learn from visual images, and often someone would read a flyer aloud to those who were interested. Historians point out that this print explosion spread political ideas and revolutionary news to excited audiences in Europe and the Americas. How does this print compare to the portraits of Napoleon (Source 11) and L’Ouverture (Source 6)? Why do you think the artists represented revolutionary leaders in these ways?

The significance of these images is the similarity among them. Although there were many images of these men that did not depict them as military leaders, the choice of this pose — a military leader on horseback — shows that artists and leaders were aware of portrayals of other revolutionaries. These images were also used later in history books and in public schools to celebrate the revolution and its heroes and to build the new nations the revolutions had created. Online you can find images of Simón Bolívar on horseback. You may wish to search for one of these and include it in this analysis.